After months of ridiculous waiting caused by a U.S. senator oblivious to military readiness, the first woman to become superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) won confirmation in early January. Vice Adm. Yvette Davids, a 1989 academy graduate, also became the first Latino to lead a school founded in 1845.
The first woman graduated from USNA in 1980.
Davids was among 350 military officers delayed from promotion by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, an Alabama Republican determined to delete Defense Department language allowing female members to receive money to travel out of state for an abortion. He staged a one-person blocking action. It is a privilege extended to a U.S. Senator, one normally used cautiously.
Derided by senators on both sides of the political divide, Tuberville unsuccessfully fought a culture war for reasons known only to the former football coach.
He injected politics into a process that calls for statesmanship, not showmanship.
A Trump acolyte, he gained publicity while incurring pressure from his colleagues. He achieved little else. A rookie senator, he lost credibility. His play-calling suffered from a lack of common sense. Perhaps his fans back home applauded his senseless maneuver.
His fellow senators were aghast. So was the Defense Department. A new skipper is now at the helm after withstanding too long a political headwind.
Well-experienced as a warship commander, Davids now leads an institution comprising more than 4,500 future leaders and nearly 600 faculty members. Its mission is academic and experiential, enveloped within a physically demanding environment dedicated to training young men and women to become officers.
Only two other service academies, as well as the Virginia Military Institute, compare in rigor and expectations.
As superintendent, Davids must confront continuing sexual assault cases. She must ensure that midshipmen are prepared to serve amid global uncertainty and unending violence. She must sustain good relations with the City of Annapolis. She must keep alumni happily engaged in the academy.
And she must reverse recent losses to Army. I suspect she is not thinking about the famed Army-Navy game as a priority.
Since moving to Annapolis more than three years ago, I have learned that its alumni are enthusiastically loyal. So are their spouses. Many have moved to Naptown for economic opportunities after their service, and for pleasure in retirement.
Their pride in the Naval Academy, which tested their self-discipline and time management as Middies, seems to grow in proportion to their years away from the “Yard.”
Joy and frivolity are tightly controlled during the four years of academy regimen. Visits home may be different. After all, Middies are still young people who need to blow off steam.
A tourist attraction due to its history (home to four signers of the Declaration of Independence), its waterborne activities, its status as the state capital and its many restaurants, the city on the Severn River draws thousands of visitors too as home to the U.S. Naval Academy. Midshipmen are part of the culture, often seen attired smartly in their uniforms; they are a presence too running in packs through the streets of the historic city.
Admiral Davids will not have to deal with student demonstrations. She will not have to explain tuition hikes; there are none. No Midshipman would dare to deface a building. Though social and cultural issues still hover over the academy, they are not disruptive.
I am not suggesting that Admiral Davids has an easy job, just one so different from leadership of private universities. A similarity is the presence and possible influence of wealthy donors. A major difference, so it seems, is tolerance of hateful speech in the name of free expression.
The academy also has endured its share of cheating scandals, an unfortunate blemish on a renowned military academy.
Davids may find that the excruciatingly long confirmation delay engineered by Sen. Tuberville was annoying but much less stressful than serving in equal parts an educator and military commander. Her career points to success leading the Naval Academy.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.